Students weigh in on their experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion practices in higher education.
Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss diversity, equity and inclusion. Next week we’ll ask, “Do you fear that World War III will happen in your lifetime? What will it look like?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before March 21. The best responses will be published that night.
Try Socioeconomic Impact, Maybe
Those pushing DEI intend to ensure nobody gets left behind, but they shouldn’t forget that the problem they are trying to solve is inextricably tied to socioeconomic status.
Schools are right to try to help underrepresented minority students gain access to career-advancing opportunities, since these groups have historically lacked them. But what about minority students who come from privileged backgrounds? They don’t need the opportunities as much as low-income white or Asian-American students do.
All low-income students get left behind today. At my college, there are more organizations and clubs for those with a diversity tag based on identity than for low-income students of any background, including male, white and Asian students. And for some leadership programs, Asians are excluded from being considered “people of color.”
When DEI practices disregard students’ socioeconomic context, they make life more difficult for some low-income students, who already cannot socially relate to their privileged peers—the majority at any elite college. Perhaps we should rethink with more nuance what the word “minority” means. Redefining it would signal progress.
—Aman Majmudar, University of Chicago, law, letters and society
The Wrong Name
As a Latino, I thought DEI statements would give me a chance to tell the story of how my family and culture affected who I am as a person and as a student. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I intended because of inherent bias in the actual practice of DEI statements.
As I answered DEI sections of applications asking for race, ethnicity and other identifiers, I felt that one factor was working against me: my name. A process supposedly to be centered on inclusion and equity made me feel disqualified, isolated and questioned simply because my name isn’t typical for a person from my culture and heritage.
It’s best that we move away from these statements. Universities without such statements would no longer introduce bias into the admissions process, decreasing the marginalization of students who don’t fit into a narrow viewpoint of what diversity, inclusion and equity is supposed to be.
—Tobias Murphy, New Mexico State University, government and security studies
Real World Application
As an impressionable young woman at a liberal-arts school during my undergraduate years, I was a strong advocate of DEI implementation. Now that I am in graduate school, I see how some DEI teachings don’t prepare students for life after college. These practices even detract from the time allotted to relevant material for future careers.
One undergraduate course I took last year, “Inclusion of Students With Disabilities,” spent a considerable amount of time on people-first language—which puts the person before the disability. But there is a lot of disagreement when it comes to such language, even among those with disabilities. The instructor spent more time discussing people-first language than preparing us for real-life situations we could face when working with students with special needs.
If we provide future educators with proven methods rooted in compassion and practicality, I believe that the natural effect will be what DEI is supposed to strive for. Education is meant to give students tools to build their own understanding. If we tell students directly what is right and wrong, we are no longer educators. We are something else entirely.
—Anna Lofgren, University of Rhode Island, education
Diverse, but Not Victims
To attend a small private Christian college in New York City is to find a different perspective on the issue of DEI than is typical.
My college has a unity-in-diversity statement, but it’s one that doesn’t encourage a victim mentality. Rather it insists that we should approach everyone’s differences with understanding. Cultivating an environment of belonging should not be simply for diversity’s sake but for the sake of being unified through our differences. Hiring someone based on a DEI statement won’t change the views of other people. Colleges should seek to promote an environment of recognizing differences but not glorifying them to the extent that our differences separate us. Everyone has different life experiences, and promoting reconciliation rather than division encourages us to discuss what unifies us rather than what divides us.
—Esther Wickham, the King’s College, journalism, culture and society
Diversity of Thought Is Missing
A policy for the University of North Carolina—approved in February by the board of governors—now prohibits schools from soliciting DEI statements from those applying for admission or employment. At a subsequent meeting for graduate students and administrators, the new policy was met with concern and despair.
That’s a curious reaction. Across the nation, the cultural diversity of the student body is perhaps broader than it has ever been. A diversity of opinion—or at least the academic space in which to voice such diversity—is what remains infrequent. In my experience, DEI discussions in graduate school have been like spring pollen: impossible to avoid and inflammatory.
It is my hope that new faculty and students can focus on teaching and research in pursuit of advancing human flourishing, which will require that this policy at UNC extends to other universities in the state and to schools outside North Carolina. Perhaps most of all, we need reform by such funding agencies as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, which routinely sacrifice politically neutral scientific pursuits for DEI statements these days.
—Matthew Phillips, North Carolina State University, aerospace engineering (Ph.D.)